Friday, December 13, 2013

Best Advice #2--Don't Coast

As I was growing up, my father owned a grocery store in South Memphis, Tennessee. The store came first in Dad’s book. For example, long before we had a home with air conditioning, Dad had the store air-conditioned. Memphis is hot in the summertime—really hot and humid. So on hot summer Sundays, when the store was closed to business, we would pack up our comic books, toys, or projects and camp out in the aisles of the store.

You are probably asking, “What about TV?”  Well, I know it is hard to believe, but TV had not arrived yet, at least not in most homes. The first TV (black and white, I might add) I saw was at a neighbor’s house in 1948. The democratic convention for the nomination of Harry Truman was broadcasting. It was several years later before we were lucky enough to get a TV at our home.

Dad was a butcher by trade. Even though he owned the store, he spent his time in the meat department. That is where I often worked to earn a little spending money—cutting up chickens, grinding and mixing ground beef, making minute steaks, raking the sawdust, and scraping the meat blocks. One bit of advice from dad was, “You can always find something to do.” He said, “If you really can’t think of anything that needs doing, then at least run around in circles, but LOOK busy!” Dad did not believe in standing around waiting to be told what to do. That probably was not the best advice. It was much later in life before I learned that sometimes thinking is more important than doing—and there are times when you need to conserve your energy for what is really important.

There was another piece of advice, however, that has served me particularly well. It is advice I have passed on to my children and their children. It is advice that I have given in many meetings when talking to a critically important project team. Dad used a driving analogy to pass on his important message. He said, "Son, when you’re almost to the top of a hill, don’t take
your foot off the gas pedal!" If Mother had been giving the advice, it might have come out, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

The point of Dad’s advice is, when you think you’ve got it made, drive it home, put it in the bank. Don’t relax! Don’t try to coast to the finish line. It is the story of the hare and the tortoise. Perseverance and follow-through count. There are zillions of people who can say, “I could have been a contender.” Those that made it, never took their foot off the gas.

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